Mardi Gras isn’t just for New Orleans

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mardi Gras, also known as Carnival Season, is a French term that literally means “Fat Tuesday.” It refers to ancient Christian practice of gorging on lavish, high-calorie foods and drink right before entering into the fasting period of Lent. Many historians believe the first American Mardi Gras dates back to March 3, 1699, when French explorers first landed just south of New Orleans, Louisiana, and held a small celebration in a spot they aptly named “Point du Mardi Gras.”

During the years that followed, settlers continued to mark the date with lavish dinner parties, street gatherings and masquerade balls. For a short period, Spanish overtook the city of New Orleans and banned the celebration of Mardi Gras, but by 1812 when Louisiana officially joined the United States of America, the practice returned in full force.

In 1827, a rowdy group of college students dressed in bright colorful costumes and danced the night away, mimicking events they had witnessed during a visit to Paris. Just 10 years later, the first official Mardi Gras Parade took place on the streets on New Orleans, launching a long-standing Carnival tradition that today includes the throwing of sparkling beads, bright trinkets, lavish masks and elaborate floats.

Mardi Gras is a legal holiday only in the state of Louisiana, but many people across the world continue to celebrate this festive event.

The first celebration

Last week my husband and I hosted our very first Mardi Gras celebration. The walls were adorned with masked faces, bright gold crepe paper, dangling lantern cutouts and bright purple, green and yellow beads. Authentic jazz music filled the air, we milled around a crystal bowl full of hurricane punch as we waited for the dinner guests to arrive, just eight people total. Name tags were placed at each place setting, along with a character booklet and a secret clue. It was an authentic Murder Mystery Party.

Our venue was an ancient mansion, set deep in the Bayou during the height of Mardi Gras; and just days after a grisly murder had taken place there. As custom should have it, my husband and I cheerfully took on the roles of the live-in house maid Elise, and the family chef and aspiring TV star Cayanne Pepper. Our beloved boss, Poor Pierre DuPres, had been murdered! He was strangled with a set of ancient Mardi Gras beads in his very own New Orleans mansion, just nights ago. In pairs, the friends and family of Pierre arrived to our home for a dinner engagement that was meant to be a celebration originally, but has now turned into an inquisition of sorts.

First to arrive was Pierre’s beautiful daughter Alexis, a Southern Belle in a beautiful, full length ball gown, who just happens to be the reigning “Magnolia Queen” from Dixie University. Much to the surprise of the socialites in town, she came with her most inappropriate, red-neck boyfriend “Gator,” an outdoorsy buffoon who thinks he will one day be a lawyer. The only problem is that he considers books of study to include titles like “Fifty Shades of Grey!”

Soon after the eccentric and electric next door neighbor-novelist, Connika Gothika, showed up, arm-in-arm with Pierre’s closest friend and personal confidant, who also happens to be his lawyer, Mr. Peek.

Our guests enjoyed cup after cup of hurricane punch while patiently awaiting the arrival of our final guests, Pierre’s young and voluptuous widow Melissa, whose brazen entrance in a flashy tiger outfit threw many of us for a second glance. She was accompanied by a flashy jazz musician in a bright purple shirt unbuttoned to practically his navel. And finally, the dinner began.

We spent the next several hours enjoying French Quarter garlic bread, avocados stuffed with crabmeat, Cayanne’s authentic jambalaya and wonderful conversation. Clues were revealed one at a time throughout the evening, as we each shared mysterious details about our backgrounds, our desires, and our secrets.

After a tempting dessert of Mardi Gras pudding, we carefully weighed the evidence, and the accusations began. Although no one at our dinner party successfully guessed the actual murderer, we did all have a fabulous time.

Recalling the events of the evening still brings a smile to my lips, as does recalling the priceless face of the gal at the Dollar Tree who checked me out last week as I purchased each and every last item of Mardi Gras decorations still on the store shelves for a holiday that had long since passed.

At the conclusion of the Murder Mystery Party, still in character, our guests ended the evening with hugs to new and old friends alike, and a sense of mysterious intrigue. We each left the party just a bit wiser, a might bit happier, and a great deal heavier.

I finally understand why they call it Fat Tuesday.

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